UK Can Reverse Brexit Process, Rules Top EU Court

By | December 10, 2018

The U.K. can unilaterally reverse the Brexit process, the European Union’s top court said in a landmark ruling that will fuel the campaign to thwart the divorce on the eve of a possible make or break vote in the British Parliament.

The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said on Tuesday that Britain is free to revoke its so-called Article 50 notice any time before it’s due to leave the bloc on March 29. The ruling comes as U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May must decide whether to put her Brexit deal to a vote and risk a humiliating defeat that could plunge the U.K. into unprecedented political chaos.

“When a member state has notified the European council of its intention to withdraw from the EU, as the U.K. has done, that member state is free to revoke unilaterally that notification,” according to the ruling by a 25-judge panel. The decision can’t be appealed.

The court ruling that Article 50 can be revoked will be seized on by “remainers,” who must now decide whether to push an amendment to that effect. At the very least, they can now argue that staying in the EU should be included in a second referendum to end the gridlock if May’s deal is voted down in Parliament.

Flipside

On the flipside, there are clear implications for Brexiteers, too. Ever since lawmakers seized control of the Brexit process in a vote last week, concern has been growing among euroskeptics that Parliament will seek a softer withdrawal or even attempt to stop Brexit entirely. On that basis, it could make sense to vote for May’s deal — which they dislike because it retains closer ties to the bloc than they want — rather than risk no Brexit at all.

As Britain’s constitutional crisis played out at home, the EU judges were asked by a Scottish court to weigh in on a key legal question: Could the U.K. unilaterally revoke its “Article 50” letter that started the clock ticking on Brexit?

The issue has been legally tricky because while Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty tells member states how to start the process of leaving the bloc, it offers no help on what to do it they change their mind.

The case was spearheaded by pro-Remain lawyer Jolyon Maugham, along with a group of Scottish and English lawmakers.

The ruling is in line with an advisory opinion from an advocate general of the court on Dec. 4 who suggested that the whole process can be reversed, without conditions attached.

May’s legal team tried to kill the case. But Maugham hopes it will give U.K. parliamentarians an extra choice beyond approving her accord or crashing out of the EU on the evening of March 29.

The case is: C-621/18, Wightman and Others.

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